Page images









This very amiable man, the youngest son of Samuel and Martha Scott, was born on the ninth day of January 1730, in the Grange Walk, in the parish of St. Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey. His father was a draper and citizen of London, a man of plain and irreproachable manners, and one of the society of the people called Quakers, in which persuasion our poet was educated, and continued during the whole of his life, although not with the strictest attention to all the peculiarities of that sect'.

His father does not appear to have intended him for a classical education. In his seventh

year he was put under the tuition of one John Clarke, a native of Scotland, who kept a school in Bermondsey Street, but attended young Scott at his father's house, where he instructed him in the rudiments of the Latin tongue. Little is known of his proficiency under this tutor, whom, however, in his latter days, he remembered with pleasure, although he was a man of severe manners. In his tenth year, his father retired with his family, consisting of Mrs. Scott and two sons, to the village of Amwell in Hertfordshire, where, for some time, he carried on the malting trade.

Here our poet was sent to a private day-school, in which he is said to have had few opportunities of polite literature, and those few were declined by his father from a dread of the small-pox, which neither he nor his son had yet caught. This terrour, perpetually recurring as the disorder made its appearance in one quarter or another, occasioned such frequent removals as prevented his son from the advantages of regular education. The youth, however, did not neglect to cultivate his mind by such means as were in his power. About the age of seventeen, he discovered an inclination to the study of poetry, with which he combined a delight in viewing the appearances of rural nature. At this time he derived much assistance from the conversation and opinions of one Charles Frogley, a person in the humble station of a bricklayer, but who had improved a natural taste for poetry, and arrived at a considerable degree of critical dis

" He used thee and thou in conversation and correspondence, and conformed to the Quaker-garb, but on the title-page of the edition of his poems published by himself the year before his death, he is called John Scott, esq. C.

cernment. This Mr. Scott thankfully acknowledged when he had himself attained a rank among the writers of his age, and could return with interest the praise by which Frogley had cheered his youthful attempts. The only other adviser of his studies, in this sequestered spot, was a Mr. John Turner, afterwards a dissenting preacher. To him he was introduced in 1753 or 1754, and on the removal of Mr. Turner to London and afterwards to Colliton in Devonshire, they carried on a friendly correspondence on matters of general taste.

Mr. Scott's first poetical essays were published in the Gentleman's Magazine, “ the great receptacle for the ebullitions of youthful genius." Mr. Hoole, his biographer, has not been able to discover all the pieces inserted by him in that work, but has reprinted three of them, which are now added to the collection originally formed by himself. Other pieces which he occasionally communicated to his friend Turner, were either mislajd, or on more mature deliberation kept back from the press. He appears to have looked up to Turner's opinions with much deference, and it was probably at his solicitation that he first ventured to come before the public as a candidate for poetical fame.

With the taste of the public during his retirement at Amwell, he could have little acquaintance. He had lived here about twenty years, at a distance from any literary society or information. His reading was chiefly confined to books of taste and criticisin, but the latter at that time were not many, nor very valuable. In the ancient or modern languages it does not appear that he made any progress. Mr. Hoole thinks lie knew very little of Latin, and had no knowledge of either French or Italian. Those who know of what importance it is to improve genius by study, will regret that such a man was left, in the pliable days of youth, without any acquaintance with the noble models on which English poets have been formed. They will yet more regret that the cause of this distance from literary society, the source of all generous and useful emulation, was a superstitious dread of the small-pox, already mentioned as obstructing his early studies, and which continued to prevail with his parents to such a degree, that although at the distance of only twenty miles, their son had been permitted to visit London but once in twenty years. His chief occupation, when not in a humour to study, was in cultivating a garden, for which he had a particular fondness, and at length rendered one of the most attractive objects to the visitors of Amwell.

About the year 1760, he began to make occasional, though cautious and short visits to London, and in the spring of this year published his Four Elegies, descriptive and moral, epithets which may be applied to almost all his poetry. These were very favourably received, and not only praised by the public critics, but received the valuable commendations of Dr. Young, Mrs. Talbot, and Mrs. Carter, who loved poetry, and loved it most when in conjunction with piety.

Although Mr. Scott had not given his name to this publication, he was not long undiscovered, and began to be honoured with the notice of several of the literati of the day, which, however, did not flatter him into vanity or carelessness. For many years he abstained from further publication, determined to put in no claims that were not strengthened by the utmost industry, and frequent and careful revisal. This, I am apt to think, in soine cases checked his enthusiasm, and gave to his longer poems an appearance of labour.

In 1761, during the prevalence of the small-pox at Ware, he removed to St. Margaret's, a sinall hamlet about two miles distant from Amwell, where Mr. Hoole informs us be became first acquainted with him, and saw the first sketch of his poem of Amwell,

to which he then gave the title of A Prospect of Ware and the Country adjacent. In 1766, he became sensible of the many disadvantages he laboured under by living in continual dread of the small-pox, and had the courage to submit to the operation of inoculation, which was successfully performed by the late baron Dimsdale. He now visited London more frequently, and Mr. Hoole had the satisfaction to introduce him, among others, to Dr. Johnson. "Notwithstanding the great difference of their political principles, Scott bad too much love for goodness and genius, not to be highly gratified in the opportunity or cultivating a friendship with that great exemplar of human virtues, and that great veteran of human learning; while the doctor, with a mind superior to the distinction of party, delighted with equal complacency in the amiable qualities of Scott, of whom he always spoke with feeling regard."

In 1767, he married Sarah Frogley, the daughter of his early friend and adviser Charles Frogley. The bride was, previous to her nuptials, admitted a member of the society of Quakers. For her father he ever preserved the highest respect, and seems to have written bis eleventh Ode, with a view to relieve the mind of that worthy man from the apprehension of being neglected by him. The connection he had formed in his family, however, was not of long duration. His wife died in child-bed in 1768, and the same year he lost his father, and his infant child. For some time he was inconsolable, and removed from Amwell, where so many objects excited the bitter remembrance of all he held dear, to the house of a friend at Upton. Here, when time and reflection had mellowed his grief, he honoured the memory of his wife by an elegy, in which tenderness and love are expressed in the genuine language of nature. As he did not wish to make a parade of his private feelings, a few copies only of this elegy were given to his friends, nor would he ever suffer it to be published for sale. It procured him the praise of Dr. Hawkesworth, and the friendship of Dr. Langhorne, who about this time had been visited by a similar calamity.-His mother, it ought to have been mentioned, died in 1766; and in 1769, he lost his friend and correspondent Mr. Turner.

In November 1770, he married his second wife, Mary de Horne, daughter of the late Abraham de Horne,“ a lady whose amiable qualities promised him many years of upinterrupted happiness." During his visits in London, he increased his literary circle of friends by an introduction to Mrs. Montague's parties. Among those who principally noticed him with respect, were lord Lyttelton, sir William Jones, Mr. Potter, Mr. Mickle, and Dr. Beattie, who paid him a cordial visit at Amwell in 1773, and again in 1781, and became one of his correspondents.

Although we have hitherto contemplated our author as a student and occasional poet, he rendered himself more conspicuous as one of those reflectors on public affairs who employ much of their time in endeavouring to be useful. He appears to have acquired the spirit and patriotism of the country gentleman whose abilities evable him to do good, and whose fortune adds the influence which is often necessary to render that good effectual and permanent. Among other subjects, his attention had often been called to that glaring defect in human polity, the state of the poor, and having revolved it in his mind, with the assistance of many personal inquiries, he published, in 1773, Observations on the present State of the parochial and vagrant Poor. It is needless to add that his advice in this matter was rather approved than followed. Some of his propositions,

Hoole's Life of Scott, p. 35-36. C.

« PreviousContinue »